It was three-oh-two in the morning when I heard the patio door slide open. I took a deep sniff to confirm it was Paget, and then clicked off the iPad. I had been reading The Circle by Dave Eggers, and I was mildly irritated that he had interrupted me before I had reached the next chapter.
I swung my legs out of bed. The patio door led from the backyard into the combination kitchen/dining area. Paget was standing just inside the open door, because I could smell the outside drifting in around him: the two dogs that lived in the back yard of the house behind mine, the raccoon that had taken up nocturnal residence in my oak tree, the garbage cans set out for the six a.m. city pickup. Those previously unknown, but now familiar scents, along with the general smell of the humid Texas night air, got my heart racing and my mouth bleeding. My teeth were twitching in their sockets, wanting to lengthen and start the change. I clenched my jaw and held off.
My feet touched the carpet. Paget slid the door shut, cutting off the smells. He was probably getting his night vision and his bearings, scoping out my kitchen, dining area, and the space beyond the dining area, a space my Realtor had called a “conversation area” when she had shown me the house. I didn’t do a lot of conversing there; it was a handy spot for a futon and a few bookshelves though.
I rotated my neck a couple of times. I had mostly recovered from yesterday afternoon, but I was still sore, and my body was an interesting patchwork of purple, green, and black bruises.
I knelt. I had stayed home since the beating, playing sick, waiting for Paget. I hadn’t doubted he would come, and soon. He’d been born and raised in Spring, where he’d been busted for breaking into that little girl’s house (and where he’d raped and killed the other little girl), and after his family there had pretty much disowned him, he’d journeyed here and glommed onto the black sheep part of the Paget/Leger family tree. He had nowhere else to go. He didn’t have the guts to strike out on his own, so he was stuck here. He knew I was going to kill him, unless he did it first.
And oh boy was I. I had once watched a slasher flick where an undead masked killer had strangled a promiscuous camp counselor with her own intestines. Was that bullshit, or was that possible? Inquiring minds were about to find out.
I didn’t know if Paget was coming this way or not. My bedroom door was open, and his smell had drifted and spread out, getting into every corner and nook of my house. I didn’t hear anything except for the hum of the central air.
Screw it. I went to all fours, worked my jaw from side to side, and changed. My teeth pushed out to their full lengths. Bones cracked. Tendons creaked. Fur erupted from under the surface of my skin. The usual.
A few seconds later, I rotated my neck again, shook my now-furry head. Paget hadn’t popped into view yet. My house’s layout wasn’t that complicated; it was the standard ranch, with the beds and baths on one end and everything else on the other. All he had to do was walk down the hallway, and I was in the last room on the left. Idiot.
I stood and crept out of the bedroom. When I’m on two legs, I have to walk hunched over in order to keep my balance. My body gets a bit gangly, what with the lupine-jointed legs and longer arms. Moving on all fours is faster and easier. But I knew what my silhouette looked like in the dimness of my house, and I knew what it would do to Paget. So I walked down the hallway, trailing one misshapen hand along the wall, careful not to leave claw marks (actually just the sharp skeletal tips of my fingers and toes) in the sheet rock.
The entrance to the kitchen/dining/conversing area was on my left. I stopped a few feet from it and let loose a low, deep growl. I heard Paget suck in breath.
Then I rounded the corner.
Light stabbed my eyes, and I snarled. The flashlight beam dropped to my hairy chest, then to the heavier matting of fur on my pubic area. (And why do they always shine their flashlights there? Jesus, people.)
Paget pissed himself, and the salty tang of his urine burned my sensitive nose. I snarled again. He twisted around, dropped the tools he’d brought, the flashlight and a crowbar, and scrabbled at the patio door. I took a step into the dining area.
He finally slid it open enough for him to squeeze out, and then he was dashing hellbent for leather into the dark. I was fine with this; it was what I wanted. No way was I getting blood and Paget bits in my house.
I closed the door and then followed. Pee makes for an excellent tracking device. I went on all fours, thinking that in the dark and the dim yellow glow of the street lights I’d look like a big misshapen dog rather than a two-legged murder beast.
Paget had run around the corner of my house. I followed in his wake, across the front yard, to the street. He’d stumbled getting across the ditch; I made it in one short leap, my claws skittering on the asphalt as I landed. I raised my head, saw him pounding down the middle of the street. He took a left at the stop sign. That put him on Horton Street, and that was good, he was heading away from Main Street. There was a convenience store a mile from us that was 24-hours, but I would have him well before that.
The plan was simple: take him down, toss him across the street to my right, into the deep ditch between Horton and the east/westbound railroad tracks, and then have my way with him. It would be days before his corpse would be found.
So I ran after him. And somewhere in between fantasizing about catching his fat ass, and getting close enough to consider making the leap that would end with me on his back, the school bus appeared.
It wasn’t out of nowhere, not exactly, I just hadn’t noticed it somehow. It was the half-size version of the big yellow bus, what we had called the short bus in school. All its lights were on: the red flashers, the headlights, the whole bit, just waiting there in the potholed middle of Horton, and as I slowed in confusion, its side door whooshed open.
Paget whooped. “You came! You came, you said you would, and here you are!” He managed to slow his jiggling body to a trot, and he slapped a hand on its fender as he passed. He stopped long enough to look back at me, his stupid round, inbred face twisted in triumph, and then he climbed aboard.